Tigers Open NCAA Softball Play Vs. Hoftstra

Palo Alto, Calif.--<!--Default NodeId For Auburn is 569,2004--><A HREF=http://auburn.TheInsiders.com>Auburn</A> is looking to make by far the best season in AU softball history even better as the Tigers prepare for play as the number two seed in an eight-team NCAA Regional Tournament at <!--Default NodeId For Stanford is 71046,2003--><A HREF=http://stanford.TheInsiders.com>Stanford</A>.

The Tigers, who are 42-16, have set a school record for total victories. They moved into the Top 25 national rankings for the first time. AU is currently ranked 12th. The Tigers won three games in the SEC Tournament last week, the first time they have done that.

The next goal is to pick up their first ever victory in NCAA Tournament competition. The Tigers will have a chance to do that at 2:30 p.m. CDT on Thursday (12:30 p.m. local time in California) vs. Hofstra, a team that is 34-19 and the champion of the Colonial Athletic Conference.

Coach Tina Deese says that several factors have helped lead her squad have a successful season. "I think the team itself, from the very beginning, believed in each other," the coach explains.

"We believed that we could do some big things," Deese adds. "I think the entire fall program that we ran strength and conditioning helped put us in a position mentally, as well as physically, to do things that perhaps we had never done before. I just know that was a major part of the confidence they carried with them into the spring."

Martha Phillips takes infield practice on Tuesday evening in Palo Alto.

Now, her team will look to break through even more barriers in California. In addition to winning its first NCAA postseason game, the team is looking to advance in the double-elimination event to earn a berth in the College World Series in Oklahoma City.

"We are excited about our opportunities," Deese says. "We are excited about what we think we can do and we are ready to get on the road and get things started."

If the Tigers are going to accomplish their lofty goals in Palo Alto, they will have to start strong early, unlike in the SEC Tournament where Auburn opened up with a 7-1 loss to host Alabama and was immediately sent to the losers bracket.

To avoid the losers bracket, the Tigers need to defeat The Pride of Hofstra, a team that is making its seventh straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

Deese says that one of the reasons Hofstra is where they are is due to their performance at the plate. "Offensively, they have got two big sticks," she says. "We are going to have to work around one huge stick that we are not going to let hurt us. If somebody else hurts us then that will be in the situation, but the one kid, in particular, we are not going to have her hurt us."

Those bats that the coach is talking about are wielded by freshman Ashley Lane and junior Adrienne Clark, who is also one of the Pride's top two pitchers. Lane leads Hofstra in hitting with a .356 average. The Westbury, N.Y., native has 53 hits, 13 doubles, nine home runs and has driven in 41 runs this season.

Clark, who is from Gibsonton, Fla., is batting .331 with 40 hits, 10 doubles, a triple, a home run and 19 RBI.

In the circle, The Pride is lead by Colonial Athletic Association Pitcher of the Year Callie Osborne. The junior from Ontario, Canada holds a 12-3 record on the season and has a 0.85 ERA. In 107 innings pitched the junior has only given up 25 runs, with 13 of them earned, on 81 hits. Clark is also strong for Hofstra. She has a 10-12 record and an earned run average of 1.50 in 135 innings of work this season.

Deese says that despite the strong effort from The Pride's junior hurler, the Tigers should come into Thursday's contest with plenty of experience in facing very talented pitchers. "Their pitching is decent," she notes. "Nothing that we have not seen from a (Kasi) Carroll (Georgia), a (Katie) Griffith (Georgia) or a (Kristin) Schmidt (LSU)--that kind of thing. Again, I think we have been well prepared, but you never know. I know they have had good solid pitching for them to have gotten to where they are."

If the Tigers can manage a win in the first round, which may not be easy considering Hofstra was able to knock off 11th-ranked and second-seeded Nebraska in the first round of last season's NCAA Regional, they will face a 2:30 p.m. CDT match-up on Friday vs. the winner of the Fresno State and Southern Illinois game. However, if the Tigers should fall in the first round they will be forced to play again Thursday at 10 p.m. CDT against the loser of the Fresno State and Southern Illinois game.

Other opening round matchups feature Pacific vs. Southern Miss and host Stanford, the region's top seed, vs. Utah.

Auburn is led by its ace pitcher, senior Kristen Keyes, who is expected to get the start vs. The Pride.

Keyes is a second team All-SEC and All-Region selection with her 27-10 record and 1.03 ERA. Her catcher, Sara Dean, is a first team All-SEC pick and AU's top hitter.

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